The soft rain blanketing Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace did little to deter stunned mourners gathered outside Thursday evening, as one constant of British life appeared to pay its own solemn tribute to the ultimate: Queen Elizabeth II, who died earlier in the afternoon at her Scottish country estate of Balmoral aged 96, drawing the curtain on a remarkable reign that lasted seven decades.
“I feel numb. She was amazing, so selfless, and such a servant to her people,” says Wendy Green, 45, who came to Holyrood—the Queen’s official residence in the Scottish capital, over which the national flag flew at half-mast—to pay her respects. “We will never have another quite like her.”
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The passing of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch has left a nation stunned. The BBC suspended all programming for breaking news updates in the lead up to the announcement at 6:30 pm of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, which was received across the U.K. with tears and hushed tones in homes and pubs thronged with after-office drinkers. The BBC is encouraging parish churches and chapels to raise their bells to remember Queen Elizabeth II and to be open for special worship or prayer. A torrent of tributes from across the globe has since been sent.
“She represents the whole history of the Europe that is our common home with our British friends, she has always given us stability and confidence, she has shown an immense amount of courage, and is a legend in my eyes,” said E.U. Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen.
“She seemed so timeless and so wonderful that I am afraid that we have come to believe, like children, she would just go on and on,” tweetedBoris Johnson, former British Prime Minster, last saw Queen Mary on Tuesday and asked for his resignation.
The Queen’s health has been monitored increasingly intensively as her age advanced. Royal household is able to call on its dedicated medical team 24 hours a days. She had ongoing mobility issues that led her to cancel attending the Braemar Highland Gathering on Saturday with Prince Charles—now King Charles III—stepping in instead.
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When she received Liz Truss from the British Prime Minister, Liz Truss on Tuesday, The Queen used a walking sticks. This was an official duty which would have been held at Buckingham Palace but took place instead in Scotland. Still, the Queen looked bright but frail at the time and few expected the hurried gathering of senior royals at Balmoral just two days later—including Prince Harry and Prince William, although Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton stayed behind—that signaled the worst.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is seen waiting in the Drawing Room, before Liz Truss arrives at Balmoral to receive her. Truss was invited there to form a new government and become Prime Minister, in Aberdeenshire (Scotland), on Sept. 6, 2022.
Jane Barlow—Pool Photo/AP
Operation Unicorn, the meticulously planned plan that was created in response to her death in Scotland, has been activated. It would have been Operation London Bridge if she had crossed the border. The Queen’s remains are expected to be taken to Holyrood to rest before her coffin is carried to St Giles’ Cathedral on the city’s Royal Mile and later to London by Royal Train.
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A 10-day mourning period will then end with the day of the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey, during which Parliament will be prorogued. Tens of thousands of people are expected from around the globe to attend the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. This will add to the huge numbers of mourners of all ages and backgrounds who have already visited royal residences in the U.K., leaving flowers and other mementos. On Thursday evening, a somber crowd gathered outside Buckingham Palace broke into God Save the Queen and, for the new monarch, God Save the King.” Many mourners speaking to TIME cited the unifying power of the Queen during a period of recent political and social upheaval, from the pandemic to Brexit to Russia’s war in Ukraine. “I just feel like the world is crumbling around me now. It’s just a terrible loss,” Louise Cabral told TIME outside of Buckingham Palace. “A lot is happening at the moment and this is just a really devastating thing to add to it all.”
“You can’t actually quite imagine her not being there,” added Sally Cherry, a tourist from Australia, of which Elizabeth remained sovereign and is one of 64 Commonwealth nations of former British colonies. “She’s just been there for so long and [was] such a part of my parents’ lives. We’ve only known one monarch, so quite extraordinary. I don’t think you’ll see a reign like that again.”
The U.K., when Elizabeth rose to the throne was the capital of an expansive empire. It was where the sun never sets. Many of these countries left her a complex legacy. At her death, 15 of the nations she was sovereign over were still in existence. The span of her reign included 14 U.S. Presidents as well as 15 British Prime Ministers. Many people find it fitting that she died in Scotland, where there was always a strong bond.
Balmoral was a British royal family residence since 1852. The Queen frequently spent summer vacations at Balmoral. After her Coronation at Westminster Abbey on February 12, 1953, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip spent a week visiting Scotland.
“The locals around Balmoral saw her as their neighbor, often bumping into her on walks or in the village,” says Charlotte Cruickshank, 29, a planning coordinator who has a family home near to Balmoral. “She will be sadly missed.”
On Sept. 8, 2022, a person in London holds their smartphone with a screenaver depicting Queen Elizabeth II.
Leon Neal—Getty Images
That said, it’s notable that Queen Elizabeth II was in fact only the first of that name to rule in Scotland. It was Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VII and who ruled England for an unprecedented 44 years (1558-1603), that wasn’t actually queen of Scotland. It’s a distinction that is often missed, infuriating Scottish nationalists, who would frequently deface objects marked “QEII” in Scotland such as Royal Mail post boxes.
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Still, at a time when poor management of Brexit—the majority of Scots voted to stay in the E.U. in 2016—by Conservative governments has galvanized calls for Scottish independence, the Queen’s clear fondness for Scotland remained a unifying force.
“Her life was one of extraordinary dedication and service,” tweetedNicola Sturgeon was the Scottish First Minister. “On behalf of the people of Scotland, I convey my deepest condolences to The King and the Royal Family.”
Contrasting with the now departed Queen’s stoic visage, and tremendous unifying strength, her successor Charles—who is expected to travel across the four nations of the U.K. in coming days for ceremonial duties—is a more forthright voice on social and especially environmental issues. However, it remains to be seen if that activism causes division.
“The Queen had been reigning for so long that it will feel strange to see someone else in her place,” says Cruickshank. “Charles certainly has big boots to fill but I hope the general public will be behind him.”
—With reporting by Yasmeen Serhan/London
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